Käthe KollwitzDie Mütter (The Mothers), 1922.

Käthe Kollwitz utilized her artistic career to illuminate social injustices. As a Prussian-born female artist of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, she sympathized with the poor, the working class and the exploited, the three being quite synonymous. In the 1890s, Kollwitz left her usual medium of paint for etching and woodcuts, a change inspired by her peers, fellow Expressionists, a group of which she is well associated with.

In her series Krieg (War), Kollwitz manifests grief, sorrow, and tragedy of the First World War into woodcut prints. The series outlines several hardships that have hit the people left at home during the war: mothers, children, widows, etc. The tragedy of war, specifically that of losing a child, resided quite personally with Kollwitz as her own son, Peter, was killed in combat. Krieg (War) translates her personal tragedy into a universal one as she depicts the unspecified faces of parents and children, figures that represent the sufferers of war. In Die Mütter (The Mothers), women huddle around their children to protect them either from becoming another civilian casualty or from their nation’s own military. The pure black shadows on their faces emphasize the ominous environment that these families trudge through. The uncovered eyes peering out from the group gleam in paranoia as their respecting bodies take up defense by sheer motherly instinct. Die Mütter does not only portray the stress common folk at home have to live with, but it shows the power and bond mothers have with their children and with each other. Kollwitz portrays here a unified group of women working to protect their children, themselves, and each other.

Die Mütter is plate 6 of Krieg, published in 1923. This edition of the print was purchased in 1940 by the Wayne State University Art Department.

Written by Danielle Cervera Bidigare